CfP: 57th ITH Conference: The Political Ecology of Work in Times of Disaster

Call for papers, deadline 31 January 2022

[More information in attached PDF]

International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH), in co-operation with the Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria, the Chamber of Labour of Vienna, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Politische Bildung, the Karl Renner-Insitut, and the City of Linz

Preparatory Group:
Rolf Bauer (ITH, Wien), Adrian Grama (Leibnitz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, Regensburg), Chitra Joshi (Association for Indian Labour History, New Delhi), Stefan Müller (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bonn) und Susan Zimmermann (ITH, Wien)


The onset of the global pandemic radically challenged the world of work. Lockdowns and other public health policies re-segmented labour markets, reallocated rights and reinforced privileges. Homework exploded, all while workers deemed “essential” kept on risking their health in services, care, slaughterhouses and farms. Both in the Global South and the Global North, labour legislation was rolled back, and trade-unions muted.

The 2022 ITH conference takes from the present epidemiological crisis to reflect on other times of disaster and their implications for workers, organised labour and labour relations. This includes ecological disasters like earthquakes, floods or droughts; technological disasters such as Fukushima in 2011 or the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984; medical crises like epidemics or pandemics, such as the Black Death, the post-World War One influenza pandemic and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

No disaster is purely natural. A disaster takes place within environmental, social, economic and political contexts that ultimately determine the impact of a disaster. Human Intervention is important to the outbreak of such events. It is human society, not nature, that is in crisis due to viruses, geological or climatic changes; it is human society that produces technological disasters; it is the geo-ecological shifts between humans (society) and nature that can produce biophysical hazards. The social and economic impact of a hazard is determined by nature and extent of societal vulnerability. It is this societal vulnerability that turns a hazard into a disaster, the endemic into an epidemic.

How well societies prepare for, cope with or recover from disasters is determined by their social, political, economic and cultural vulnerability and their capacity to absorb these shocks (their resilience). At the ITH conference 2022 we focus on how labour was affected by and dealt with disasters in both a long-term and short-term perspective. We approach this topic through the lens of political ecology, i.e. we take the viewpoint of both environmental history and Marxist political economy.

There are numerous factors that deepen labourer’s vulnerability and their capacity to cope with shocks: environmental, economic or institutional factors. Studying disasters via a political ecology approach allows us to analyse these factors in a combined way. From a political ecology approach, we see that the expansion of capitalism and the inherent exploitation of both labour and nature has had a severe impact on workers’ vulnerability to hazards: it worsened the livelihood of many, and weakened communal institutions (e.g. commons), but has also created the preconditions for environmentally-induced disasters. These pre-conditions materialise in varied ways in different societal contexts – a heterogeneity that needs to be explored.

We invite contributions that explore the following questions:

  • How have the working people experienced and interpreted different forms of disasters in the past and the present?
  • What is the role of organised labour in shaping the outcome of a disaster?
  • What are the short- and long-term effects of disasters for workers and labour?
  • What is the political impact of an epidemic crisis on labour?
  • Who are the workers in the disaster relief sector?
  • Are there any progressive opportunities coming out of a disaster?
  • What is the impact of disasters and crises on patterns of labour circulation and migration?
  • Can we observe selective effects of disasters along racial, ethnic or gender lines?
  • Has the Anthropocene changed disasters / led to more disasters?
  • How have workers adapted to disasters, e.g. via social movements, solidarity, etc.?
  • How have state interventions, law and legislation mediated the impact of pandemics and other crises and to what extend has labour influenced this?

AK-Bildungshaus Jägermayrhof, Römerstraße 98, 4020 Linz, Austria

Linz is an industrial town some 180 km west of Vienna and one of the historical centres of the Austrian labour movement. The Austrian Civil War between Austro-fascist militias (“Heimwehren”) and the federal army on the one hand, and the paramilitary organization of the Austrian Social Democratic Workers Party, the “Republikanischer Schutzbund” on the other, in February 1934, started in Linz. The surroundings of the Jägermayrhof were among the centres of combat.

Laurin Blecha
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)
c/o Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW)
Altes Rathaus, Wipplinger Str. 6/Stg., A-1010 Vienna, Austria
email: conference[a]